Women in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya played a frontline role in bringing down entrenched dictatorships. And now they are eager to reap the rewards of full political participation in their respective countries. "However," said Melanne Verveer, U.S. Amassador-at-large for Global Women's Issues, "there are actors in these societies who clearly intend, and even often vocally express their desire, to push women back. Some claim the West is trying to impose its values on the Arab people by promoting women's rights, but this is neither a Western issue, nor an Arab issue, nor a religious issue. It is matter of universal human rights."
In Tunisia, women won around twenty-five percent of the seats of the new Constituent Assembly. Tunisia has a history of women's rights, said Ambassador Verveer. It was the first Arab state to abolish polygamy; the first to grant women professional rights; and it was at the forefront in establishing progressive family laws. Women took an active role in administering the October election. All parties who won significant seats responded to Human Rights Watch's pre-election survey indicating their support for the principles of gender equality.
In Egypt, there are concerns that the previous gains made by Egyptian women will be reversed and that they will be increasingly excluded from the process. The role of women in Egypt's transitional government has been very limited. No women were included on the committee that drafted Egypt's transitional constitutional declaration. Nevertheless, women will take part in the upcoming elections as voters, candidates, and political party members, and the U.S. government is supporting such efforts.
Women in Libya played a critical role in the country's liberation. There are small but very active groups of women across the country who expect to take their place in the leadership of the new Libya. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton laid out the United States' clear expectation for the full participation of women in the transition.
In an effort to empower women in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, the United States is supporting leadership skills training for women. These skills are critical if women are to take their rightful place in these transitioning societies. As President Barack Obama noted, "No country can realize its potential if half its population cannot reach theirs."